2021 VFLW season preview: Hawthorn

FOR the first time since 2018, Bec Goddard is set to take the senior coaching reigns during competitive action, when she leads Hawthorn’s VFLW side into battle for Round 1 of the new season. Heading a historic all-female coaching staff, Goddard says she is “excited” to be part of the Hawks’ initiative to provide greater opportunities for women in football – not just on the field.

“For me, and when I talk to the players about it, it was always about the best coach for the job and they happen to be women,” Goddard said. “I’ve got some great teachers on coaching staff that support me, have got a lot of similar values and they just hadn’t had an opportunity at the next level. This is their opportunity.

“It’s one of those things where in five years time when Hawthorn is in the AFLW competition, we could look back and go ‘well, what do we do to get more women in these positions at the club?’ and start from that point, or we could start now. It’s brave and overt leadership by the club to say that we want to change the industry and give opportunities to women, not just in playing but all elements of the football department.”

Goddard will have familiar faces at her disposal in 2021, leaning on some legendary names in the women’s footballing sphere while also attempting to get the most out of some promising young talent. 39-year-old utility Meg Hutchins is among the experienced members of Hawthorn’s revamped squad, described by Goddard as akin to “the timeless piece of furniture in an expensive house.”

“She’s got so much football experience and will bookend our team this year,” Goddard said. “Meg and I often talk about how the end of football is going to wrap up for both of us and I keep saying to Meg ‘well, you’re a long time retired so while you can keep playing, why don’t you?’.

“That’s where she’s at so it’s great to have her playing, and she’s fully fit. In fact, I look at Meg and I think she’s the fittest I’ve ever seen her across her years of women’s football. It’s exciting, hopefully she has a great season and you might see her in some different positions.”

With such vast experience in the women’s coaching ranks comes a handy list of contacts, which has played a part in Hawthorn’s recruitment of players like Abbey Holmes and new skipper Jess Trend. Both have been AFLW-listed players and the latter is a “surprise package” of sorts according to Goddard, hardly missing a beat since deciding to join the brown and gold. She was one of the many signings identified as key members of the side by her new head coach.

“‘I had a couple of texts with (Trend) and then she came down to training and she hasn’t missed a session,” Goddard said. “I think coming out of a global pandemic, we’re looking for a carrier of a good disease and Jess Trend is just that. She’s infectious with her attitude, her happiness to be around football and bringing good elite habits to the group.

“In the middle of the field we’ve brought in some experience in Abbey Holmes. Abbey and I obviously worked together at Adelaide for the inaugural premiership year. She’s got a wealth of football IQ that she brings and shares with the younger players in the group, as well as some great physical attributes for football. She’s tough at the contest, so it’s exciting to see Abbey contribute at Hawthorn.

Olivia Flanagan will play an important role this year. She’s coming back from a little bit of sickness in the last couple of weeks so she’s named as an emergency this week, but I expect ‘Liv’ to play a lot of football. She’ll make an impact up forward and on the ball this year to make her a bit more diverse in what she does.

“We’ve got young Territorian Dominique Carbone coming in from Darwin this weekend to play her first season in the VFLW, she’s a really exciting young talent with a basketball background. She plays low to the ground, looks like an athlete, is an athlete, behaves like an athlete, and she’s ready to take her football to the next level.”

Goddard is also excited to have full access to the next generation of prospects swarming through the elite talent pathways. Through a competition restructure, the NAB League Girls season now runs concurrently with that of the VFLW, allowing Under 18 and 19 players to also ply their trade in the state league system.

Their impressive skill and scope for improvement has impressed many a VFLW coach, no less Goddard who suggested tongue-in-cheek that she is “really looking forward to the (NAB League) byes” in order to gain access to said talent as much as possible.

“They’re such great footballers,” Goddard said. “Their skills are so impressive and they’re just growing in terms of their football IQ each week, understanding how we want to play football. It’s just great to have them there and contributing to a really high standard of training.

Speaking of training, the Hawks returned in “better than expected” shape after a year on the sidelines, though plenty of craft sessions and a heavy incorporation of match simulation into training has lifted their touch back up to scratch. A single scratch match, against Geelong provided even more insight into how the brown and gold are shaping up ahead of Round 1, with 29 players trialled and a bunch of magnets locked in on Goddard’s whiteboard.

Players returning from injury will also have a say on the side’s shape during the season, with a few players who earned high praise from Goddard expected to make a splash once fully fit. The new 12-day concussion mandate has also been a factor in availabilities across the competition.

“We’ve got a couple of players to come back still,” Goddard said. “We’ve got Tayah Kelly who obviously is a fairly damaging midfielder, she’s still out with a bit of an issue with her hip, so I think we’re at least three weeks away with her.

Chloe Bain, who I think is probably going to be one of the most exciting centre half-forwards in the competition – new to the game and she’s an extraordinary athlete with a rowing background, very long levers – is out this week with concussion. But when she’s fully fit and firing she will take the competition by storm, I’ve got no doubt.

Hawthorn’s first point of call in 2021 will be a clash against the Western Bulldogs at Whitten Oval on Sunday morning. Goddard says she is taking a “simple” approach when it comes to expectations, but is excited to be able to get back into action.

“I think we’re going to keep it really simple and we want to enjoy our first game together as a group, that’ll be the most important thing,” she said. “Also just being in the contest and making a real fist of Round 1 and getting to feel what it’s like to be with the team to achieve a common goal.”

Image Credit: Hawthorn Media

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